Green Programmes For Special Needs Health And Social Care Essay

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Green programmes are activities whose syllabus is related to plants and animals. They are based on the proven positive effects of such activities on the psychological and physical health of humans. The benefits or advantages of this programme are visible in four main areas of human development: the intellectual, social, emotional and physical area.

Since nature attracts peoples attention unintentionally and requires no effort to do so, it has a relaxing and regenerative effect on them. This makes plants and animals good motivators and stimulators of peoples hidden potential.

There are four different aspects to the use of horticulture and animals: therapeutic aspect, educational aspect, occupational and recreational aspect.

To plan activities that involve plants and animals effectively, we should consider not only each of the aspects but also the interests, abilities and special characteristics of the functioning of users who are people with special needs, and accordingly introduce suitable adaptations in terms of space, time, methods of work and the activity itself.


Plants and animals have always been loyal and indispensable companions to people - in an economic, social and emotional sense alike. It is man's attitude to them that changed over different periods of history. In the context of therapy, green programmes involve the exploitation of natural givens and untapped potential offered by the area of agronomy and nature in general: plants and animals, a way of life and work, the natural environment and their beneficial effect on man's psychological and physical well-being. Strictly therapeutic purposes aside, horticulture and animals are even more often used as the subject of occupational activities on farms or recreational activities in public or private parks, which likewise have a positive effect on people (Sempik and Aldrige, 2006; Sempik et al. 2003; Elings, 2006).

Many green programmes place a strong emphasis on inclusion or education and are open to anybody in need of help because they have difficulty integrating into the social environment. Causes may include various impairments or special characteristics in the social, mental, emotional, or physical area (rehabilitation programmes, training and occupational activity programmes). They are also suitable for people who wish to enrich their lives and leisure time with new qualities (leisure programmes, visits to farms, learning new skills on farms, volunteer work) and of course for children, who are offered educational programmes based on farm themes (Schilden and Vink, 2000; Hassink and van Dijk, 2006; Braastad et al., 2007; Dessein, 2008).

2.1 The mechanism of plant effects on people

There are several theories on the mechanism of nature's positive influence on people. The best known of them is the attention restoration theory by Kaplan (1989, quoted from Sempik et al., 2003; Elings, 2006; Relf, 1998), which argues that mental fatigue in people results from the constant effort of day-to-day selection between rival impulses that vie for his attention. This is called direct attention. On the other hand, nature attracts man's attention unintentionally and requires no effort to do so, which is why it has a relaxing and regenerative effect on man.

While there are many qualitative studies that shed light on positive effects on specific population segments in the area discussed, quantitative studies are scarce (Sempik et al., 2003), as it is extremely hard to measure the results of effects that plants have on people. The benefits or advantages of this programme are reflected in four main areas of human development: the intellectual, social, emotional and physical area.

Intellectual area. While learning various gardening techniques and methods, individuals gain a lot of new knowledge and skills and at the same time improve their vocabulary or terminology. Plants fascinate human beings with their appearance, their growth, colours and scents and arouse their curiosity. The look, feel, taste and smell of plants also play an important role in promoting sensitivity to the world around and increases the ability to perceive details.

In the area of socialization, many possibilities are available for social interaction, either within a group or within the wider environment:

activities which are done in a group, teamwork, cooperation, mutual help, mutual communication

programmes of training for work; learning appropriate social skills for a work setting

visits to parks, arboretums, greenhouses, exhibitions: an opportunity for socialization in the wider community

participation in public events, fairs, exhibitions: an opportunity to share common things, experiences and products with others.

Emotional area. The fundamental value of HT programmes is an increase in self-respect and sense of self-worth. A properly designed programme embraces the different needs of participants and adapts to their varied levels of abilities. The range of HT tasks is broad enough to ensure adequate involvement and satisfaction of almost every participant, a sense of responsibility and a certain work result - achievement, fulfilment, all this leads to an improved self-image. Activities such as digging earth, mixing compost, raking leaves and cutting branches are excellent ways of modifying aggressive behaviour by releasing tension in a more acceptable way and improving self-control. The curiosity inspired by the "miracle" of flowers opening or "the growth of my seed" fosters further interest and anticipation, especially in older people.

Physical benefits. Horticultural activity offers many opportunities to develop physical abilities. A program may be designed to develop and promote both gross and fine motor skills. Everyday routine tasks (watering and checking plants - rounds of the garden, rearranging), involve many motor elements: bending and squatting, lifting, walking, grasping, letting go, fetching and carrying away. Participants also profit from passive participation, the exercise in the fresh air and the sun, not just from activities.

Each activity offers many possibilities for learning in the cognitive area, for acquiring new knowledge and skills, improving verbal and communication skills, rousing curiosity, increasing powers of observation, stimulating sensory perception (Relf, 1973, 1998; Catlin, 1998, Sempik at al., 2003; AHTA, 2009).

2.2 The mechanism of interaction between man and animal

As interaction means reciprocal action between two individuals, we should be aware that both parties, human and animal, give and receive in this process, depending on who initiates the action. Man and animal may differ in their perception of a certain interaction. A contact may be pleasant to the human but unpleasant to the animal. There are many kinds of interaction; gentle and friendly or aggressive and hostile. It may involve just watching each other, verbal contact or tactile sensation - touching each other (Bookers, 2006).

Some researchers believe that people have an inborn need for social contact with dependent creatures such as pets. They have a pleasant way of taking our mind off situations that are a source of fear. By focusing on an unthreatening stimulus the body's defence mechanisms relax, which helps people sustain even the most threatening stressors (Jordan, 2000).

Areas of positive effects of animals on people

The benefits are reflected in several areas of human functioning and we may sum them up in two large groups: effects on human health and effects on human psychosocial health. Of course all these positive effects may not be universal to all people that come in contact with animals.

Animals can play the important role of companion in all stages of human life. In the childhood stage, it is play that is vital to normal human development. The most important way children and animals play together in early childhood is social play, when both child and animal, who might not have any suitable peers to play with, benefit in the social area as well as in the verbal, emotional and personal growth area (Marinšek in Tušak, 2007). In the stages of growing up, socializing between adolescents and animals has an effect on self-respect, self-image and independence, the sense of belonging and acceptance. In maturity, animals help us deal with everyday stress, which increasingly causes cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure owing to today's way of life. Animals give us a sense of satisfaction, acceptance and warmth. In old age, they relieve the feeling of loneliness, isolation and uselessness and encourage activity and social life (Friedman, 1995; Fine, 2000; Marinšek and Tušak, 2007).

The physiological benefits of being in contact with animals are reflected in the resulting decrease in blood pressure; touching or stroking animals or even just watching animals triggers a feeling of pleasure, joy and satisfaction in most people, calming them and reducing symptoms of stress (Delta society, 2009). Several studies also report a reduction in various minor health problems in owners of pets, such as sleeping difficulties, headaches, constipation problems, nervousness, which is most likely the result of increased physical activity in the owners of domestic animals (Fine, 2000).

Empirical studies focus on the four main areas of positive psychosocial effects on people exerted by animals. They mention their positive effect on reducing loneliness, anxiety and depression, their positive socialisation effect by increasing the opportunities for social interaction between people, the motivational effect of animals and their influence on an individual's quality of life (Fine, 2000).

2.3 Aspects of the use of green programmes

Professional literature mentions three or four different aspects of the use of horticulture (Relf, 1973, 1998) and animals in relation to people: a therapeutic, occupational, recreational and educational aspect. In practice, individual aspects are hard to tell apart since they overlap, with one or another predominant depending on the programme. The theoretical principles of green programmes may be applied to the entire population of people with special needs.

Therapeutic aspect. Activities run by experts, where the aim of using plants and animals is to achieve precisely defined goals and the process of treatment is recorded, may be defined as therapy (AHTA, 2009; Delta Society, 2009). Just like horticulture therapy (HT), animal assisted therapy (AAT) or animal assisted activities (AAA) are supporting therapies and not a substitute for other therapies or a cure for all illnesses (Relf, 1973, 1998).

0ccupational aspect. We should point out that the programme does not aim to produce real gardeners. The true aim is to encourage personal growth and broaden knowledge by exploring and working with plants and animals. A good programme is planned so as to avoid "employment for the sake of employment". Each activity should have a meaningful contribution and function in the programme as a whole. The emphasis is on involvement and not on the final outcome.

Among other aspects Elling (2006) mentions the occupational aspect provided by green care farms, where the user joins in the normal daily horticultural and other farming activities along with the farm owners. The work activities are well-defined and adapted to the user's abilities. Work with plants takes place on the farm - a real-life, genuine setting, the produce is high quality and the user's work is useful.

Recreational aspect. One of the major challenges that people with developmental disability meet with is suitable physical condition - fitness. The Green programme of course does not cater to all these needs, but it is a step towards learning to take pleasure in exercise through a different channel, through other activities. For people whose only recreation is watching TV, horticulture is an area that offers a wide choice of interesting activities suited to various ages and skills.

Educational aspect. By "learning" we mean not training for a profession or a job, since the aim of people with intellectual disabilities (those not on the labour market) is not to earn their own living but to get involved in active life. This is what makes social education especially important; as a life-long process, its aim is to ensure the freedom of self-determination and the greatest possible independence, as well as the acquisition of skills needed to perform various activities related to everyday living: suitable behaviour, decision-making, everyday house chores, safety precautions, use of public transport, free time, relationships with people. The most important element of such learning is to learn through concrete situations in a real (the usual) setting.


When researching, planning, providing a legal, financial and staffing framework and finally during practical implementation of green programmes as well as during the monitoring and evaluation of their effects, it needs to be taken into account that its is by no mean unimportant whether the programmes will include persons with intellectual disability (which primarily involves relatively modest intellectual potential) or e.g. persons with mental health disability or persons with cerebral paralysis, who have entirely different "special needs" - which also means different options and conditions.

3.1 Abilities and the functioning of persons with intellectual disability

The following description of how persons with varied levels of intellectual disability function is just a sketchy outline of how these persons cope in certain areas and is intended to provide a general understanding and overview of issues in this field. It is known that the way a person behaves and reacts in his living and working environment, is determined not only by the level of his intellectual abilities and physical skills but also by his motivation, social skills and other, external factors. Realizing this is important not only for vital practical reasons; it also provides a basis for recognizing and identifying their basic needs, for professional treatment of individuals, and for planning and managing their education, socialisation and training for sheltered work.

When working with or training persons with intellectual disability, we need to consider their specific characteristics and adapt our methods of work accordingly. To do so, we should note the following characteristics of these persons:

their cognition is weaker (they are concrete thinkers; they think through observation)

their perception is weaker (they perceive a smaller number of objects; they are slow)

they simplify things, cannot always distinguish between essential and non-essential things, they find it harder to detect differences and especially similarities in objects

they find it harder to use already acquired knowledge

they need a lot of praise and encouragement at work

their tolerance threshold is often low

some of them have impaired work concentration, which means that work must be organised in shorter time blocks

they tire more easily

they perform tasks more slowly

they may have difficulty getting about (needing more space)

they tend to be successful at repetitive tasks.

They experience failure in life more often than other people and they depend on the help of other for several activities, which lowers their self-confidence and increases their distrust and insecurity.

Based on the described characteristics, the following methods and types of work are used for successful work: explanation, demonstration, observation, description and discussion.

3.2 Programme individualization

To individualize is to modify to the extent of meeting the individual differences of each child, adolescent, adult with regard to their characteristics such as abilities, interests, experience, pace of work and learning styles.

What is even more important than the general characteristics and methods of work is an individual approach to each person and selecting work methods which are adapted to that person. By considering their needs, abilities and preferences we can apply adaptations necessary for successful and safe work, training or education. Some adaptations are pre-defined by regulations (e.g. for sheltered employment), while many derive from practice itself. Not all adaptations can be foreseen. Often we find ourselves dealing with a problem and looking for the best solution on the spot, when the abilities of an individual are challenged by a concrete work situation. In such situations it is critical to know how persons with intellectual disability function and what their abilities are, to understand the work process, to be able to relate to their situation, to be resourceful and willing to find help.

A team approach to designing an individualized programme means than such a programme is not merely a hotchpotch of programmes by individual experts and taking the time to inform the parents of the goals. An interdisciplinary approach requires us to examine and coordinate different views and values and above all to coordinate goals between the professional team and the parents. The views of professionals on involving parents vary as much as the parents' willingness to get involved. At any rate, experts should embrace and understand the philosophy and significance of including the family into the education of a person with developmental disability.

3.3 The methodology of designing suitable syllabuses for users

We examined the factors necessary for a successful formulation of gardening syllabuses suitable for persons with intellectual disability at the training, work and care centre CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga. At the same time, we analysed the past development of the green programme run in one of CUDV's units - the VDC Draga occupational activity centre. The programme is user-oriented in approach, its primary aim being to improve or maintain his psychological and physical abilities.

For the purpose of designing suitable syllabuses for users we have developed a method which makes it possible to evaluate the relation between the difficulty of work tasks and the actual capabilities of persons with intellectual disability. The basis of the method was an individualized programme for persons with moderate, fairly severe and severe intellectual disability.

First, every activity is broken down into a sequence of work stages, which are then assigned one of 4 difficulty levels (Difficulty Level 1 - the simplest tasks, Difficulty Level 4 - the most demanding and dangerous tasks) according to the abilities required from the user in order to complete a certain stage of work. For this purpose we used methods for evaluating the functional areas of an individual which he might develop through a certain activity or which are necessary to complete the activity.

Difficulty Level 1 - simple tasks which do not require the use of tools or other implements at all or at best only simple ones. They can be carried out by almost any user included in the activity, unless he has intellectual as well as motor disability (filling pots with earth, watering, pushing a wheelbarrow, picking crops, rearranging objects, tearing, plucking and stripping herb leaves, etc.). The task requires that the user is capable of holding and putting down things (in a purposeful way of course); the use of one or both arms.

Difficulty Level 2 - it requires the use of tools and implements (scissors, rake, hoe), caution at work (care for personal safety) and fairly good fine and gross motor skills.

Difficulty Level 3 - tasks requiring the user to make decisions of his own during work, to be flexible, plan the working procedure with regard to the required or altered situation, evaluate his own work as to whether it has been done well or not. He needs some theoretical knowledge for this. Also required is the use of complex implements, machines and tools and observation of safety precautions during work. For these tasks, most target users need help, guidance or at least supervision.

Difficulty Level 4 - tasks which need to be performed by a professional for reasons of safety or because they are too demanding (preparing sprays and spraying with chemical preparations, mowing with a brush cutter, scythe, sickle, operating a gas burner, changing a gas cylinder).

The level of independence achieved by a user in an activity was rated on a four-level scale, as follows:

I - Independent

S - Requires professional supervision and verbal assistance

P - Requires physical assistance from professional staff

No - The user failed to complete the work stage.

Green activity programme development in the case of CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga

Step 1: designing new syllabuses for users and examining them in practice

15 years ago, CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga started with the gradual introduction of activities including arable farming, gardening and landscaping. In the first phase, which we called "the period of enthusiastic beginnings", activities developed particularly in the open air (arable farming, gardening and landscaping), where both employees and users put their abilities to the test. Positive effects as well as the first problems appeared.

Table 1: Advantages and drawbacks of green programme in the "period of enthusiastic beginnings" ", CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga



Work with plants, animals and soil in nature has a very good effect on users who are hyperactive, aggressive, self-aggressive.

For some, this was the only area where they could gain positive experiences. Their abilities, not their shortcomings came to the fore (physical strength, motion, gross motor skills), which helped build their positive self-image.

Greater possibility of choosing between offered activities.

The area of arable land was too large.

Too much overtime was used by staff to till and maintain arable land.

The user's abilities were too low to make activities of this form and on this scale reasonable, since the main goal of the green programme was not commercial in aim.

The problem of maintenance during yearly staff vacations, coinciding with users' holidays.

Activities concentrated to the spring and autumn season.

While produce quality and quantity were important from an economic viewpoint as well as a motivational factor, they were not the main goal or purpose of the green programme. The goal and purpose primarily related to the user, in the sense of improving or maintaining his psychological and physical abilities.

Table 2: Measures to remedy drawbacks of the green programme, CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga


Land under cultivation is reduced by half.

Production direction

Traditional arable farming is given up, because it requires too much mechanical (ploughing, fertilizing, etc.) and physical work (weeding, hoeing, etc.) without offering enough tasks of a difficulty matching the users' abilities.

Human resources

Outsourcing for hard physical work (ploughing, fertilizing).

Increasing the number of professional staff.

During high peaks of work, "work campaigns" are organised, where efforts are joined by employees and users.

During summer vacations, standby duty is organised, which solves only part of the problem of the seasonal nature of the green programme.

Step 2: analysis and evaluation of individual activities in view of the users' abilities

In consideration of both the positive effects and the critical evaluations across respective activities, a green programme concept is gradually formulated according to individual activities, which is still implemented today. The following goals were kept in view:

the users' abilities needed to be taken in account and the activities designed so the users could perform at least 50% of the work by themselves

the activities need to be distributed as evenly as possible throughout the year

the activities need to provide the users with a sufficient amount of work.

Landscaping was kept, as it largely comprises tasks with difficulty levels 1 and 2, which are the most appropriate for users and in addition, the quantity of independently completed work exceeds 50% in both difficulty levels.

Gardening or work in the garden was kept largely for therapeutic and other reasons (positive effect on the users' well-being, exercise, part of the school curriculum), although there are still certain doubts regarding this activity. The problem is that the greater part of the tasks is too demanding for the users. Although over 66% of the tasks necessary in the garden are rated difficulty level 1 or 2, the rest are activities such as weeding, tilling beds with tools (dif. level 3), which are too demanding for our users. Most of these tasks must be done by the employees themselves. Tending to the garden over the summer, in the time of vacations and holidays, is still a critical point. We try to mitigate the problems with more advanced technology and by moving closer to ecological production:

the beds and the ground are protected with foil, straw or bark,

raised beds are introduced to grow crops,

an irrigation and watering system are put in place,

more perennials than annuals are planted, particularly herbs and spices,

we stopped using several chemical preparations (herbicides, insecticides).

Step 3: modifying the existing activities, creating new ones and introducing necessary adaptations

In introducing new activities, we primarily looked for work where difficulty level 1 and 2 tasks accounted for more than a half of the activity and could be done in the late autumn or winter time or throughout the year. First, CUDV invested funds in building a conservatory and later, donated funds helped us to obtain a genuine heated plastic greenhouse. This gave us a facility for autumn-winter activities.

Mushroom growing (oyster mushrooms) start in late autumn and finishes in the spring, when outdoor work begins. An old shelter was used for the purpose, offering almost ideal conditions for growing oyster mushrooms with minimum investment required. Although only half of the necessary tasks are difficulty level 1 and 2, more than 80% of them are performed by the users, independently or under supervision. Moreover, the mushrooms have high appeal on account of their qualities (quick growth, smell, appearance, taste), which strongly draws the attention of users and increases their motivation for activity and involvement.

Raising seedlings (vegetables, fruit vegetables, herbs) is an interesting activity, since many of the tasks can also be carried out by physically disabled users and it takes place indoors (they can improvise as long as there is enough light) at a time when outdoor temperatures are still too low for outdoor work. More than 76% of the tasks needed in this activity are difficulty level 1 and 2 and more than 60% of the tasks with a difficulty level of 1, 2 and 3 can be completed by users, independently or under supervision.

Care for animals is the next activity that was gradually introduced. We started with horses for sports riding and, in recent years, also for therapeutic riding and hippotherapy. Later came goats, two donkeys, ducks and rabbits. The good point of this activity is that it can provide daily work for users throughout the year, but its weak point is that care for animals must be provided every day of the year, which requires more professional staff. Except for the tending and direct feeding of horses, which accounts for 22% of all the work necessary in this activity, all other tasks can be done independently, but mostly under supervision, by the users. All of the animals are kept in enclosed areas, so that the users may choose to approach them or not. Participation in this activity is likewise up to the users (possible fear of animals).

Produce processing and preparation for sale (apple vinegar production, drying fruit, herbs and spices, flowers, making herbal soap, packing and preparing products for sale) is an activity that can be performed throughout the year and offers a wealth of suitable chores. This activity involves almost no tasks with a difficulty level of 4, while as many as 82% of the tasks are difficulty level 1 and 2. This is an activity that most users find enjoyable, since it is not physically demanding and has a calming effect, especially work with herbs and spices.

Making herbal paper by hand is the youngest activity in the green programme. This activity includes no difficulty level 4 tasks either, and the users can do the majority of other tasks by themselves with only minor assistance from the professional staff. We use the paper produced in this way to make greeting cards, as backgrounds for pictures and for special gift wrapping. Factors relevant to designing a green programme

Observation and experience has shown that in addition to programme individualization, which caters for an individual's abilities, needs and wishes, there are also other factors crucial to syllabus realisation: step-by-step introduction, evaluation and examination, teamwork, a suitable number of qualified staff (knowledge in special education and agronomy) and many other adaptations which pertain to the activity itself.

Table 3: Adapting farming activity to the requirements of the green programme

Necessary adaptations

Adaptation details


Sufficient space for work, also for the physically disabled, without major architectonic obstacles and with accessibility of work areas to everybody.

Working day

For most users, two blocks of 1- 1.5 hours is the maximum length of an active working day, which also includes preparation for work, the work itself and clearing up. In between, there is one short and one longer break for rest and relaxation.

Number of users in a group

An ideal group numbers 3 - 4 users per one professional worker for outdoor work, in compliance with requirements for safety and continuing education, which is sometimes hard to ensure due to staffing regulations.

Adaptation of the work itself and the work methods

The work is broken down into small meaningful units, which a user can gradually link into a whole. It proved to be reasonable to combine a maximum of 2 to 3 activities in one working day. Enough time must be allowed for the user to complete a certain stage (meaningful unit) in view of his abilities. Sometimes this means 2x, 3x, or even 10x the time needed by a professional worker to carry out the same work by himself.

Continuity of work is important, both for the sake of the users and for the sake of the green programme syllabus.

Adaptation of work implements and tools

Specially shaped handles, straps for attaching tools and for pulling, lighter and smaller work tools, possibility of sitting during work.

Technology adaptation

Simplify technology, manual rather than mechanical work, excluding dangerous or over-demanding procedures, finding innovative solutions.

One of the most important indicators of whether an individual's programme is suitably designed is its effect on the user. This is not just bare evaluation and examination of his ability to master individual work stages; it is above all important to monitor his development, successes and progress in the area of socialization and personal growth. A higher level of independence and responsibility, participation in a group, helping others, learning work habits and persistence are just some of the elements that tell the most about the positive effects of the programme on the user.

It is important and reasonable to make a gradual introduction of an activity, to be followed by its examination and evaluation, on the basis of which the activity is suitably adapted and modified to meet the needs and abilities of the users included in the green programme.

What also proved to be important during the introduction and later during successful implementation of such activities was the teamwork of experts from various fields: special teacher, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, agronomist and work instructor. Each of them brings in their own perspective to make their share in the introduction of activity adaptations and various work methods which best suit a certain user. The aim and purpose primarily focus on the improvement or maintenance of a user's psychological and physical abilities, with consideration given to his wishes, preferences and abilities, all of these reflected in the personal (individual) plan of each individual included in the green programme.

The result of the long-running progressive work and teamwork in CUDV Dolfke Boštjančič Draga is that its green programme is now also formally an integral part of its programme of training, work and activities for children, adolescents and adult users with moderate, fairly severe and severe intellectual disability.


The proven positive effects of nature, i.e. plants and animals, on man's psychological and physical health serve as a basis for the content of green programmes. These involve activities with content that is related to animals and plants. The benefits or advantages of the programme are reflected in four main areas of human development: intellectual, social, emotional and physical.

Nowadays we speak of four different aspects of the use of horticulture and animals in relation to man: the therapeutic, occupational, recreational and educational aspect. In practice, different programmes overlap or complement each other.

Observation and experience has shown that in addition to programme individualization, which caters for an individual's abilities, needs and wishes, there are also other factors crucial to the implementation of the syllabus planned: step-by-step introduction of the programme, evaluation and examination, teamwork, sufficient qualified staff and many other adaptations which pertain to the activity itself and comply with the special characteristics of users.

In the beginning, it is essential to have the right motivation and attitude to working with a certain target group, a holistic approach to an individual, attention and respect for his abilities and limitations. To perform this work, it is vital that a future service provider should have certain personal qualities and social skills.

Green programmes offer a suitable alternative to the established training and rehabilitation programmes available to persons with special needs, providing another opportunity for lifelong learning and a possible road to normalisation and integration of the population of people with intellectual disability.